NORTH CONWAY, N.H. (AP) – John and Nellie Egan are at the end of the line – and that’s where they like it.

The semiretired train conductor and his wife spend their summers in a remodeled caboose parked on a railroad siding, alongside other refurbished cabooses owned by trainmen and railroad buffs.

In winter, the Egans live in a mobile home in Florida, but the caboose feels like John Egan’s true home.

“I lived half my life in the caboose anyway, working on the railroad,” he said recently, as he relaxed with a beer and a cigarette on his back patio, a small concrete pad with a picnic table, a few chairs and a view of the White Mountains.

Cabooses, known as “crummies” by the conductors and brakemen who bunked and did paperwork in them and cooked on their potbellied stoves, were more than primitive living quarters.

Most had window-filled cupolas where a brakeman watched the train ahead for smoke indicating overheated axle bearings. From the caboose, the crew could put on the train’s emergency airbrake, throw switches and put signals on the track to warn following trains of trouble.

Electronic braking, signaling and monitoring systems have eliminated cabooses on most modern trains. But many old wooden cabooses – with windows, good insulation and cupolas or extended bay windows on the sides – have found second lives as everything from Pennsylvania motel cabins to cheese shops, railroad museums and private excursion cars.

Still, this semi-permanent vacation community appears to be unique. The owners of about a dozen cabooses and one box car pay a modest rent to the Conway Scenic Railroad for their spots on the siding.

Most of the cars have quick-release water, sewer and electricity hookups so they can be moved if necessary, but haven’t been moved in years.

Some of the cabooses have been completely remodeled, while others are basic accommodations whose owners use showers and toilets in the railroad’s freight house and warm up their meals in microwaves.

The Egans’ caboose has its original heavy conductor’s desk and simple cupola, but there are plenty of additions and improvements: a galley-style kitchen, a shower and toilet, a sitting area and beds.

The Egans bought their Grand Trunk Railway caboose for $850 in 1973. Egan was among a group of volunteers restoring engines, passenger cars and tracks to start the Conway Scenic Railroad, which takes tourists on short sight-seeing trips in the Mount Washington Valley and the White Mountains.

Egan, 77, grew up next to the railroad tracks in Gorham.

As a teenager he worked in the train yard and the engine house, on the coal chute and on the track repair gang during summer vacation.

“My mother said as soon as I was old enough to look out the window, every train that went by, I had to see it,” he said.

As an adult, he worked his way up from brakeman to conductor on the New England line of the Grand Trunk Railroad, which connected Portland, Maine, to Montreal.

Now Egan works as a conductor on the scenic railroad one day a week, more during the fall foliage season.

Next door, Don and Allison Audibert stay in a Central Vermont Railroad caboose they inherited from Don’s brother Howard, an architect and train enthusiast who bought it in 1974.

The last car on the siding, a former Bangor & Aroostook Railroad box car outfitted to carry Maine potatoes, once belonged to Don’s other brother, Paul.

For years, the three brothers and their families rented a chalet nearby for a few weeks and renovated first one rail car, then the other.

Don Audibert, 74, dates the brothers’ love of trains to their childhood in Whitefield, when their father worked as a brakeman and their mother ran a tourist home near the tracks.

“When my father went by on the train, he’d drop off a block of ice for the ice box,” he said.

His most cherished memory is of an illicit handcar ride the three brothers and a friend took down the tracks from Crawford Notch to Arethusa Falls on a fall day in 1986. The Boston and Maine Railroad had recently ended freight service on the line and the Conway Scenic Railroad had not yet taken over.

“We weren’t worried about a train, but we were worried about inspectors maybe, or boulders on the track, or a washout,” he said.

Allison Audibert remembers the camaraderie in the caboose community a decade ago, when the brothers and their wives had retired and spent full summers there, living alongside volunteers and employees of the railroad.

“We opened up the roundhouse and had a party there once,” she said. “We were all kind of like a big family.”

The Audibert brothers renovated the caboose to include a full bathroom, seats up in the cupola that convert to beds, a stacked washer and dryer, bookshelves, a compact kitchen and built-in dining table, and a living room with fold-out queen bed. It even has air conditioning, electric heat, carpeting and hot water.

The former potato car also has all the comforts of home. Visitors walk up wooden steps to a porch, then cross a drawbridge-style ramp through the original box car door.

As a freight car it had no windows, but behind the original metal doors are a sliding glass door on one side and a full-length window on the other. Hatches at either end of the roof, once used for loading ice that kept the potatoes cool while they were shipped cross-country, now are skylights.

Don Audibert shows off the details with pride and a touch of sadness. Brothers Howard and Paul are dead now, and Don and Allison have homes in Cape Cod and Florida, so they have reluctantly decided to sell their caboose.

“This is what’s so hard – giving up the memories,” he said.



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